This story is by Ashley Taylor and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
My left-hand grasp a cold bronze doorknob. I curl my fingers around the base and give it a precautionary twist. With a lengthy exhale, I push the sensation of dread deep into my stomach. This is the third wooden door within these four walls that I’ve opened. One cherry red, another burnt orange, and this would be my next selection. If I am too afraid to see what’s behind this sealed door, I will lose all hope of ever seeing Mayla again. Staring back at me, the absence of color, its wooden frame painted emerald green. Everything depends on me choosing the right door, but with doors as far as I can see and beyond what I wish to count, the chance of choosing correctly seems rather impossible. This will not be Alice’s rabbit hole or a wardrobe to Narnia. I try to wrap my head around the idea that nothing is inside but my mind’s own creations. I have moved on from those other doors that held horrors I never wanted to imagine again, but I am certain that I will see them in my dreams for many nights to come. This room contains an endless array of mismatched doors like shoe soles at a secondhand store. They all have a peculiarity about them. Some are cracked and splintered around the edges. Others are missing handles or stained. One door seems to have glitter shimmering underneath. It’s not only the colors that make them stand apart from one another but also their sizes. I imagine my body turning into a liquid so I can seep between the cracks to fit inside. Others, even with all my strength, would be too heavy to push open by myself. Behind them are all places I’ve been before, and most, I wish to never visit again. No matter what’s in store, I will never leave this room filled with doors to nowhere except to the depths of my own mind.
With a gentle nudge, it creaks open, the crisp cool first day of fall air seeps out through the sliver of space I’ve created. I hear my name like a whisper from inside. Jamie.
It’s enticing in the same way that I can’t help but see where a noise is coming from as I take creaky stair after stair down into a damp smelling basement. I just know that there is a mountain of a monster hidden beneath the stairs, but I refuse to believe more than what my eyes are showing me, even with the fear growing stronger in my heart. One flip of a light switch and nothing appears. I just had to look, if I never saw it with my own two eyes, then the monster would still be there lurking out of sight, waiting for me to be vulnerable. Knowledge is the only way to make him disappear.
That thought is enough for me to make my reluctant choice and place one black boot over the thin threshold and into another dark place I never wanted to revisit.
The tread of my shoes is met with the crunch of crisp leaves and condensation that has made its home atop them. The moisture in the air tickles the top layer of my skin, and through the fog, I see them. Those bright emerald eyes surrounded by long lashes and thick bushy hair. Mayla is forever a wild thing. She is running towards me, hands outstretch, calling my name “Jamie! Jamie! Your eyes are supposed to be closed; you’re cheating!”
I freeze in place as the scrawny little 4-year-old runs completely through me. She is running toward the 7-year-old version of myself. I am exactly how I remember—too short for my age, my bowl cut sweaty and stuck to my forehead from running in the woods. It has been over 20 years, and I still can feel the way the wind blows through the trees.
Mayla pushes her back into the bark of the tallest tree and waits for me to come and find her.
I count down…. 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
I never find her.
I tear through the bushes and check behind every tree. It was just moments ago when I last saw her muddy Converse shuffling over an orange sea of leaves. My little feet carry me all the way home. I am here to find what 7-year-old me couldn’t see. I begin looking through the memory for her narrow face, for her jewel-like eyes. I look for clues of cars passing by, pieces of clothing that might have been torn away, lakes she could have fallen into, or strangers faces in the woods.
Then the trees begin to rapidly fade, the sky dims, and there I am again standing outside of that jet-black door with the painted green trim. Once more, I take another step inside. There she is running towards me. There she is hiding behind a tree. I close my eyes and begin my count down. This time I go right to the tallest tree, and there she is breathing heavily, hands on her knees. “You cheated! I saw you with your eyes open!” I fire back, “I did not!” Mayla’s feet carry her far away again. I am not quick enough to catch her. The trees begin to fade yet again.
I close my eyes, and there I stand on the other side of the same door and I am running out of time. For months after her disappearance, detectives combed through the woods. They uncovered no evidence that we had ever been there at all. Then I remember that we hadn’t. I step through for the third time, and I am in my childhood room, cheap plastic stars stuck on the speckly roof above, bed unkempt, and toys in clusters like the freckles on my cheeks.
There I am laying on the bed, counting down. I jump up from the bed and look for her in closets, under beds, behind the shower curtain. Then I hear her high-pitched laughs coming out in muddled gasps from the washroom. I sneak closer, open the dryer door, and there she is, knees bent up to her chest, face red.
“I found you!” I shout.
“You cheated!” she replied.
“No! I didn’t, and the washroom is off limits.” She climbs out and we spend the day watching a cat chase a mouse on the plush purple carpet in front of the TV. The house begins to fade away, and I find myself in the massive room again with the black door slammed in my face.
When I enter again, I go straight for the dryer, but 7-year-old me is already there, slamming the dryer door in his sister’s face as she yells, “You cheated!”
There I am turning the shiny knob and pushing the gray button.
There I am holding the door closed while my sister screams to be let out.
There I am saying, “not until you say I didn’t cheat.”
That’s when I know.
I watch myself pull her limp body from the small cube. There are burns on her arms, and her face is bloodied. I didn’t mean to hurt her, but it’s too late. Mom would be home in a few minutes, and I don’t want to get in any trouble. I am dragging her small frame down the stairs to the basement, finding the small area where cinderblocks are missing, and pushing her lifeless body through. When mom gets home later, I tell the story I’ve told myself every day for the past 20 years. It’s the story about Hansel and Gretel, just two kids playing in the woods.
I hear loud snaps all around me. I can feel the smooth leather at my back and sticking to my arms. I started counting down in my head. My body convulses, my legs jerk and my arms shake with frustration. I shut the door to the basement, leaving the light off. This monster is not one I’m ready to see.
My startled reflex kicks in as I snap awake, my body tumbling off the small brown couch. I hear my therapist’s voice in my ear, “Jamie, this is Dr. Ellis. You are okay. You’ve never left this room. You are safe.”
Dr. Ellis softly asks, “Anything new this time?”
I answer with a shake of my head; my thoughts are shifting to denial. I consider all the rumors I’ve heard about Repressed Memory Therapy. I know the treatment I’m receiving is in the early stages of its trial phase. I think about how the memory of Mayla’s body inside the dryer could be a memory inserted like a spider laying eggs in my brain. The drugs must have side effects of hallucination. Mayla was everything to me.
“I think my time is up,” I whisper.
Dr. Ellis touches my shoulder and says, “We will unlock those doors, I promise.”